De Soto girls’ basketball off to strong start

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The De Soto High School girls’ basketball team huddles during a game against Basehor-Linwood on Jan. 8.

Brady Huggins, Staff Reporter

The De Soto High School’s girls’ basketball team is off to a strong start this season going 3-2 in its first five games, highlighted by a recent victory over conference rival Basehor-Linwood. 

With the loss of a number of key seniors from last year’s graduating class, head coach Ryan Robie has re-emphasized player development this year. As a result, De Soto has found new contributors during the first half of the season. 

“We’ve coached ‘em up,” Robie said. “We have had to get back to the player development aspect this year. Last year, we didn’t have to because we had so many seniors who had experience at the varsity level.” 

Assistant coach Bruce Yarbrough echoed Robie’s claims regarding the loss of several senior leaders and the improvement of younger players. 

“We have a lot of varsity minutes to fill with inexperienced players, so we knew that we would have to focus on developing players’ skills,” Yarbrough said. 

Themes of team bonding and togetherness have always been preached by De Soto’s coaching staff, but the loss of summer programs this year have made those points of emphasis difficult to address. 

“Usually our summer program gets players a lot of playing time, but all that was cancelled,” Yarbrough said. “It definitely put us behind where we thought we would be. We knew that we would have to focus on player development and small details.” 

Despite the absence of summer programs and time to prepare for the winter season, junior Ivy Houts spoke to the advancement of the team’s chemistry. 

“We’re trying to play more together and learn each other’s strengths,” Houts said. 

Senior Kadey Waite also noted how the team is trying to adjust to one other. 

“We’ve learned to work together, since we lost four starters from last year,” Waite said. 

Having so many new players on varsity is especially difficult, in regards to COVID-19. De Soto has had to adapt to the adversity the pandemic has provided. 

“It’s [COVID-19] been an obstacle because we’ve had to get used to wearing masks for three hours during practice,” Waite said. “We’ve had four people who had COVID-19, so half the program was shut down for a while.” 

In addition, Houts described the changes COVID-19 has made to their season thus far. 

“The bench is socially distanced, so we can’t celebrate with each other like last year,” Houts said. 

The pandemic has also had an effect on team gatherings this year, according to junior Sadie Carver.

“There’s no team dinners,” Carver said. “And there hasn’t been fans, which is a lot different.” 

Robie added how COVID-19 has made it difficult to practice with all of his players in the gym. 

“It’s hard to find consistency,” Robie said. “We’ve only had two practices where everyone’s there.” 

The complications that COVID-19 has presented have challenged De Soto in the first half of the season, but they’ve reacted positively to the new changes.

“Our team has responded incredibly well to COVID protocols,” Robie said. 

Although De Soto’s players are still getting used to playing together at the varsity level, there have been quite a few positives through the first month of the season. 

“It’s been good just getting to have a season,” Carver said. “We’ve been able to have games and see teammates again.” 

Houts also saw improvement after the first few games. 

“After our first game, I think we learned to practice harder,” Houts said. “We kind of came together after that.” 

Robie praised his players for the way they’ve battled in the first few games of the season. 

“I would say our team fights and competes,” Robie said when asked about the positives he has seen in the first few games. “They’ve shown a ton of resiliency and they battle, even when they’re not playing well.”

Despite the improvements, De Soto has also focused on various aspects of their game to work on. Waite detailed the points of emphasis that coaches have spoken about. 

“We’re trying to be aggressive and get to the basket more,” Waite said. “Coaches are trying to emphasize being patient.” 

Carver also described patience as something for De Soto to develop.  

“We’re trying to improve on having less turnovers, being patient and expecting the unexpected,” Carver added. 

Yarbrough also mentioned the emphasis on growth and eliminating mistakes early in the year.

“It’s about the process, not about perfection,” Yarbrough said. “We’re going to be looking at games completely different in March than in January.” 

Robie and his coaching staff have repeatedly focused on togetherness in his tenure at De Soto, and this year is no exception. 

“We always emphasize playing together, continuing to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Robie said. “It’s that ‘we over me’ mindset.” 

When asked about who had stepped up in terms of leadership, players unhesitantly mentioned senior Katelynn Ostronic. The Wildcats’ leading scorer and most experienced player is the unquestioned leader of the team. 

“It’s definitely Katelynn Ostronic,” Houts said. “She’s definitely our leader.”

Carver had the same things to say about Ostronic. 

“Katelynn is a really good communicator and leader all around,” Carver said. 

As the Wildcats dealt with the graduation of multiple key players, it was hard to predict what their season would look like, especially during a pandemic. However, with Ostronic’s senior leadership and the infusion of new talent on De Soto’s varsity roster, season expectations have risen significantly. 

“We want to have a winning season and just get better overall,” Carver said regarding the team’s season goals.. 

For others, the winter basketball season marks the end of their high school career, including senior Kadey Waite. 

“I’d like to make an impact on the basketball program as a whole,” Waite said. “Being able to have a positive impact on the program before I leave would be really cool.” 

Nevertheless, the Wildcats remain poised to capture a second consecutive Sub-State Championship. 

“Every team has the ultimate goal of winning a state championship,” Yarbrough said. “You want to continue to improve and put yourself in a position to survive and advance come March.”